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CAST gets $9,000 in town block grant support as organization’s work continues to expand

Southold Town allocated $9,000 from its community development fund to the Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation at a Town Board meeting Tuesday.

Executive director Cathy Demeroto made a case for the town support for CAST during a work session earlier that day, highlighting its rapid expansion in recent years. The funding comes from federal community development block grants. CAST is usually allocated a portion of those funds, which the town applies for every year. Ms. Demeroto said $9,000 is more than usual. 

“I’m going to talk a little bit about the tremendous growth we’ve had to meet increasing needs in Southold Town,” she said. “So just for perspective, when I started in 2017, we had four staff, two full time and two part-time. Right now we have 17 staff.”

Of those, six work full time, and 11 part time. CAST also has two full-time AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers who are paid by the federal government, she said. The group is also working to bring on three Department of Labor staff paid for by Suffolk County, and two Southold High School students with disabilities. 

“When I came on, the budget ranged from between $200,000 and $250,000 a year. This year we’re at $1.1 million and I expect that to increase to $1.25 million in 2023,” Ms. Demeroto said. 

The number of meals CAST provides each year has risen from around 45,000 in 2017 to 244,000 in 2021, she added. This year, the group expects to distribute more than 300,000 meals. 

“As many of you know, low-income people, rural communities, people of color were hit hardest during the pandemic,” Ms. Demeroto said. “And we rolled right from the pandemic into inflation, high cost of fuel. So many, many families are struggling. Right now we’re serving approximately 900 families, 2,400 individuals, which is about 10% of residents in Southold Town.”

Most clients, she said, are “hard-working families struggling to make ends meet” and others are seniors or people with disabilities who are unable to work. And, especially with the rising cost of housing, many families are struggling to stay on the North Fork. CAST has been working with several displaced residents each week, according to Ms. Demeroto.

“Affordable housing is a huge problem and we can work together to offer more affordable housing,” she said.

CAST’s funding currently comes from a mix of private corporations, various levels of government, family foundations and local residents. “The bulk of our funding comes from local individuals, which is crazy,” Ms. Demeroto said.

The organization also offers services to families on Shelter Island, and works with both private and public partners on several programs, including a collaboration with Suffolk County on a mobile pantry. Last year, local farms helped the group connect low-income families with about $85,000 worth of fresh local produce. 

CAST offers a wide range of services, including a youth culinary program, two full-time bilingual caseworkers, support for Spanish-speaking mothers, and pre-school education initiatives. 

“The town has always been supportive; we’ve been very collaborative,” Ms. Demeroto said, noting that Southold usually provides between $5,000 and $7,500 each year through community development block grants. “I’m hoping you guys will consider in any way possible to provide more support to us to sustain essential programs and services.”

CAST is trying to close out its capital campaign, with a goal of $3.1 million. “We’re at about 2.85 [million], so we’re so close, but we really need to close that out as our budget keeps increasing because of the needs we’re meeting in the town,” she added.

Town Board members were supportive of Ms. Demeroto’s request and discussed adding links on the town website to CAST and other local resources.

The resolution passed at the regular session later that day also allocated $9,000 in community development funding to a Maureen’s Haven homeless shelter in Riverhead and $130,000 for ADA upgrades at Tasker Park in Peconic.